“If white clay burns white and red clay burns red, why doesn’t blue clay burn blue?” DIGGING CLAY - It’s hot. The kind of hot that hits you in the face as soon as you walk outside.  The kind of hot that drains you of energy just standing still. You feel the sweat as it beads on your forehead and starts to roll down you neck.  Your cloths slowly start to feel heavier as they absorb the perspiration. - and you’re just standing there. And still. Not a breath of air stirring.  Not a leaf moving.  Absolutely still. And quiet.  Not the chatter of the birds that is normal as they go about doing whatever it is that birds do.  No blue Jay telling the world what he thinks.  No Mockingbird trying to convince everyone that he is someone he isn’t. Not even the angry scolding from a squirrel - after he has decided you are no threat to him and comes out of hiding - letting you know he is not happy that you are intruding into his world. Even the rhythmic call of the locust is slow and muted – as if the very thought is too much effort.  The distant call of a lone crow is slow and muted as well – not the noisy back and forth cawing between members of the flock that is normal. There are other sounds, however.  The rhythmic “thud” of a mattock as it sinks deep into the clay.  The grunt and “oomph” of air being expelled as the man swinging the mattock puts his weight behind the stroke, to sink the tool deep into the hard clay.  The sound of the clay itself as it falls from the bank onto the pile that has already accumulated at the base of the pit wall. There is the sound of a flat bladed shovel as it slides along the hard, packed clay to scoop up another shovel full.  The grunt as this is then swung in a large loop to toss it some 8 to 10 feet above into the bed of the truck. Rhythmic – over and over and over until the truck will hold no more. Their cloths are soaked with sweat – totally, completely.  Their hair as well, as rivulets of sweat bead and then slowly run down their neck – the burning as it gets in the eyes from the forehead – the salty taste of it. It is mid afternoon and they’re tired.  They left home before daylight and have been digging for some 8 hours already.  It will be several hours or so more before they have a full load and dark when they arrive back home.  The back and forth banter they had in the morning has long since stopped as they concentrate on the task at hand.  Nothing is said that is not necessary – nothing that will use more energy.  They are totally focused upon the task at hand. This is work as hard as it gets. It’s the dry season – mid to late August - maybe into September. The sky is clear except for a few scattered white, fluffy clouds lazily floating by – not a hint of moisture contained in any of them. The clay pit, which normally holds water, has dried out over the summer as less and less rain has fallen – the clay becoming hard as concrete.  The location is the mountain areas or piedmont of North or South Carolina.  Maybe Virginia or Georgia - Alabama or Florida.  Even into Texas. It is the hottest part of the summer.  And dry – it must be dry.  Back in the “old days”, back when a mule was used to grind the clay, you wanted the clay to be moist.  But this clay is going to be dusted to screen out most of the rocks and bits of roots and other debris before it is grounded so it must be as dry as possible.  .  The heat and lack of rain this time of year sucks the moisture out of everything and the clay pit becomes workable - the water it normally holds is long gone and every drop of moisture sucked out until the clay is dry and hard.  The clay will dig easier this way.  As the mattock digs deep, the clay chunks off the pit wall - sometimes in large pieces - with each swing.  These are perfect conditions when working a pit in which one is digging horizontally, off a pit wall.  One keeps the pit floor smooth, even, so you can pull the clay off the wall onto the floor and then use a flat bladed shovel to throw it into the truck. If one is digging down in the pit – going ever deeper - the clay being slightly damp will dig easier – one can spade it with a sharp bladed shovel and not have to use a mattock.  But not wet.  When the clay is wet, it sticks to the tools making an already difficult job almost impossible. It is clay digging time and, as they have done since the mid 1700’s here in the US, members of the Brown family are getting in next years supply of clay.  It is what potters have done for hundreds – thousands - of years.  In the Old World of Europe - England, Germany and the others.  In China, Japan, Korea and the rest of Asia.  In Russia and Turkey.  In Egypt and the rest of Africa.  In India and South and Central America.  Man and earth – the continuing struggle.  Using what nature holds to make his life easier. But nature does not give up her bounty easily.  This will be the first of many loads that will be dug, transported and unloaded over the next week or so – the tons needed to last a full year until the heat and dry conditions come again.  A production pottery - even one making crocks, churns, jugs and other items - uses a lot of clay over a year’s time. This day there are three at the clay pit – the two older men in the pit and a young boy who, not being used to the short night and early get up, is asleep in the shade of a tree beside the truck.  He is not old enough to be of much real help – that will come with time – but he takes the men water and a sandwich when asked and when a large piece of clay chunks off the pit wall, a piece that is too large and heavy to toss all the way into the truck, he will sometimes carry it to the truck, struggling to hang on to it as he comes out of the pit and to then get it up into the truck itself - proud of being such a big help.  He is, in fact, probably in the way but they tolerate him – at least, most of the time. The rest of his time will be spent roaming around the woods, watching the squirrels and other animals, playing in the small creek that runs nearby.  Creeks hold an almost hypnotic effect on a young boy – drawing them to its banks and waters like an expensive amusement park.  Wonderful things can be found there – periwinkles, salamanders, crayfish.  Sometimes small minnows – if you’re lucky, maybe even a snake.  Flat rocks can be skipped across some of the larger ponds.  Hours can be consumed playing in a creek. And tomorrow, if they are not returning for another load for a day or so, he will help unload the truck.  Later, as he is older, he will do this by himself.  He makes a game of it – how fast can he empty the load - to show Grandpa and the others that he is a big boy and able to work as they.  Every little bit helps in a family run business – it frees the men for other tasks. As clay pits go, this is an easy pit to work.  Only one level – from the pit, some 5 to 6 feet or so deep, into the truck. Some pits are so deep that you must tier them – tossing the clay from the floor to a ledge about 6 feet up.  From that ledge to another and sometimes even a third before finally up into the truck.  Each shovel full of clay handled 4-5 times or more before it is at the shop and under cover. Some pits you filled toe sacks and carried it to the truck – or a wagon or even the back of a mule – as in the past.  Dad said the clay pit they used in the Jay - Bluff Springs area of  Florida, was so deep that this was what they originally did.  Later, a rope pulley was rigged up so a large metal bucket could be filled and pulled to the top.  And even later, this was pulled up by a mule – the same one used to grind the clay. This was hard, hard work – just the first of the many jobs in making a pot from start to finish.  In the old days, nothing was easy around a pottery. That was then.  Now, a front-end loader will load more clay into a dump truck in an hour than used to be done over several days. It is easier being a potter these days – even for one still using native clay rather than buying it pre-mixed and ready to use.
BROWN’S POTTERY - from the inside